La Villa Planchart
During Marcos Pérez Jiménez’ dictatorship, Venezuela saw some signs of progress in the city. The Plancharts, Armando and Anala, were a couple who loved art and culture. While Armando—who made his fortune as the exclusive importer of the Cadillac brand in Venezuela—cultivated a love of orchids and hunting, his wife dedicated herself to the cultural life of modern Caracas.
Both of them, certainly ideal clients, undertook the search for the right place and architect for their dream house. As for the place, they chose a hill with a fortunate view, located to the south of the Valley of Caracas. As for the architect, they chose Gio Ponti (1891-1979), the Milanese architect and godfather of post-war Italian design, then director of the magazine Domus. Villa Planchart, one of the best known houses of the history of XX century architecture, also known as El Cerrito, is certainly among the architect’s most important works and referred to by him as his “jewel” and masterpiece.
Built in 1957, the Villa is a courtyard house. It is the result of the perfect symbiosis between the Plancharts and Ponti, who maintained a long and happy relationship through letters, telegrams, detailed plans and frequent personal visits during the house’s design process. The house’s location and orientation with respect to El Ávila is one of its best features: lightly perched on the hill, at the center of a two hectare terrain with a 360 degree view, it has been and remains a privileged witness of the city’s growth.
Although inspired by the figure of a butterfly, the house’s diamond shapes are reminiscent of the Pirelli Tower and its masterful circulation. Ponti managed to control the circulation through plans and lines on the floors and ceilings, leading the visitors inevitably to the main hall, from where the whole house can be seen. An industrial designer as well as an architect, Ponti not only designed the house but also incorporated furniture designs he had made for Altamira, Cassina and M., Singer & Sons, among others, as well as lamp designs made for Arredoluce, Fontana Arte and other reputed industrial design firms.
The design of almost each piece and object inside the house, in all of which the attention with which the house was conceived, designed and constructed is reflected, is added to the exquisite art collection, of which Fausto Melotti’s ceramic mural located in the courtyard, Calder’s mobile at the entrance, and the paintings of Armando Reverón are notable pieces. Also inside the house, Armando Planchart’s magnificent orchid collection is a sensory experience of its own. The flowers and plants of various shapes and colors are changed weekly, impregnating the house with different aromas and colors. The Villa, built by Italian and Portuguese immigrants who arrived in Caracas after the II World War, reflects a part of the Italian architectural tradition. The concrete structure supports the external walls, which seem to float, lined with vitrified hammered ceramic. The materials and elements that make up the house were primarily sent from Italy, but assembled or placed in the new San Román property.
The sketched history of the Villa’s conception is now a part of the Anala y Armando Planchart Foundation’s valuable archive, whose work is to preserve the house in its original state as part of Caracas’ cultural heritage. This oasis of modernity, located at a hill in front of El Ávila to be seen from various angles within the city, is one of the most important landmarks of XX century architecture, and one of the city’s best kept secrets. It is a work that maintains a rigorous harmony between the design of its space and the elements that make it up, a work that transcends its time thanks to the attention and care with which it was built, inhabited and is now preserved.